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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/26/15

On Leaders and Demagogues

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Reprinted from Robert Reich Blog

Leaders?
Leaders?
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Among the current crop of candidates for president of the United States, who exhibits leadership and who doesn't?

Leadership isn't just the ability to attract followers. Otherwise some of the worst tyrants in history would be considered great leaders. They weren't leaders; they were demagogues. There's a difference.

A leader brings out the best in his followers. A demagogue brings out the worst.

Leaders inspire tolerance. Demagogues incite hate.

Leaders empower the powerless; they give them voice and respect. Demagogues scapegoat the powerless; they use scapegoating as a means to fortify their power.

Leaders calm peoples' irrational fears. Demagogues exploit them.

My list of great American leaders would include Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

All inspired the best in their followers. All fought for the weak and powerless. All conveyed a forceful moral vision of tolerance, forgiveness, and humility.

In his second inaugural address near the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln urged his followers to act with "malice toward none, with charity for all."

In his first inaugural at the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans the "only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts."

In 1963, as African-Americans demanded their civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. urged his followers "not to seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."

My list of American demagogues would include Senator "Pitchfork" Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, who supported lynch mobs in the 1890s; Father Charles Coughlin, whose antisemitic radio rants in the 1930s praised Nazi Germany; Senator Joseph McCarthy, who conducted the communist witch hunts of the 1950s; and Governor George C. Wallace, the staunch defender of segregation.

These men inspired the worst in their followers. They scapegoated the weak and set Americans against each other. They used fear to stoke hate and thereby entrench their power.

Back to the current crop of Presidential candidates: Who are the leaders, and who are the demagogues?

The leaders have sought to build bridges with those holding different views.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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